Whatever Happened to Blow's Coke-Dealing Hairstylist?

Whatever Happened to Blow's Coke-Dealing Hairstylist?

By Keri Blakinger 07/07/17

The Fix follows up on the fate of George Jung, the real-life California Connection played by Johnny Depp in Ted Demme's 2001 drug film Blow.

Image: 
screen grab from the movie Blow
Former cocaine kingpins have been living out their reformed lives in styles ranging from near pauper status to movie and book deal celebrity. Image via Blow / New Line Cinema

Derek Foreal leaps onto the screen as the flamboyant, pushy pot-dealing hairstylist played by Paul Reubens in Ted Demme’s cult hit, Blow.

He’s insufferable, but he has some memorable lines. And then he vanishes - from both the movie and real life.

Most of the real-world drug dealers depicted so colorfully in the 2001 drug classic have made occasional headlines. Pablo Escobar is at the center of a Netflix series. George Jung has floated reality shows and landed book and movie deals. Carlos Lehder is the subject of a true-crime book released last year.

But Derek Foreal - whose real name was Richard Barile - has remained shrouded in powdery mystery, as the Connecticut native had already faded into a quiet life outside of the limelight long before the infamous movie hit theaters just over 16 years ago.

“When I met him, he was just a simple old man with funny stories,” said Gert de Herrera, who lived next door to the ex-kingpin in the final years of his life.

Barile died in 2011, but according to those who knew him, he spent the end of his days living a low-key retirement in Mexico, far from the hubbub of Jung’s post-film fame.

“He was a pretty smart guy, and as he got older he was a very humble guy,” de Herrera said.

Like Jung, Barile went packing off to prison long before their story hit the silver screen. In 1989, he was named in a wide-ranging 70-page indictment targeting 30 defendants wrapped up in the Medellin cartel’s nefarious activities. While a Bahamanian was accused of accepting bribes and Pablo Escobar was accused of leading the effort to assassinate anti-narco Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla five years earlier, Barile was prosecuted for his coke-dealing days and scored a relatively light sentence.

After his release from federal prison in October 1991, Barile kept running his hair salon - originally called Tonsorial Parlor - according to a former girlfriend who asked not to be named. (Yes, that’s right – girlfriend. Unlike his flamboyant fictional counterpart, Barile dated women.)

He finally stepped back from the business when he let his cosmetology license lapse in 2003, according to California public records.

At some point, according to both his former girlfriend and his erstwhile neighbor, the feds seized Barile’s properties in the U.S., so the ex-drug kingpin relocated to Mexico.

“They came searching and found all his properties and confiscated everything he owned, so he retreated to the sole possession he had left in Mexico,” de Herrera said. “I used to give him a hard time that he must have getaway money somewhere and he would laugh.”

Exact dates are unclear, but by the mid-2000s Barile had settled down in a Cabo San Lucas home he co-owned with his former girlfriend. From his retreat at the southern tip of the Baja peninsula, the one-time coke lord helped raise his ex’s grandson.

“He was a generous and good guy, it’s just that what he did for a living was against the law,” she said. “He helped everybody.” But by the time he settled down south of the border, he’d long left behind his law-breaking ways, giving up pot, coke and even booze.

“The only thing he drank was Coca-Cola,” de Herrera said.

At that point in life, Barile wasn’t working, either; he mostly passed his days helping with the grandson and occasionally telling tales of wilder times.

“Richard in Cabo was pretty low profile. He spent his days taking his grandkid to the beach,” de Herrera said. “A few people in Cabo knew who he was, but most people didn’t.”

And once de Herrera’s father retired to Cabo around 2009, Barile found a fast friend.

“He and Richard used to hang out and talk a lot,” de Herrera said. “Not necessarily about drugs, just about life.”

Of course, sometimes drugs did come up - and then Barile turned his sharp wit to the lessons of his past.

“One time there was a conversation about cocaine and Cabo and he just started laughing,” de Herrera said. “He said, ‘There’s no good cocaine in Cabo - it flies over top of us every day.’ He used to laugh about the fact that the U.S. was leaning on Mexico about a drug problem and Richard said Mexico doesn’t have a drug problem; Mexicans can’t afford a drug problem. America has a drug problem.”

By the time Barile ended up in Mexico, he might not have been able to afford a drug problem, either. He survived primarily on a meager income from a rental property and from a pension earned from time spent in the Marines.

“There are a lot of old retired drug lords in Cabo but they’re all poor - sooner or later, everyone loses everything,” de Herrera said.

One thing Barile couldn’t shake was the long shadow of the popular movie, a film he did not like.

“He wasn’t fond of the movie, and he didn’t like when people talked about it,” de Herrera said. “It wasn’t very factual.” For one, Barile was unhappy about being portrayed as a gay man.

But also, the reasons for Barile’s most-hateable moves in the movie weren’t pure greed, as he often told his neighbor.

“He used to get mad that the movie portrayed them as cutting George out ruthlessly, but everyone was just afraid to do business with him because he was an idiot and they were afraid he would take them all down,” de Herrera recalled.

And Barile was physically nothing like his on-screen counterpart, played by the former “Pee-wee Herman Show” star.

“If you’d never seen the movie you’d have no idea. He was maybe 5-foot-4 in real life and balding with a beard - just the nice old neighbor,” de Herrera said.

“I used to laugh about the fact that he was part of the Medellin cartel.”

Although Barile, Jung and a number of their drug-running buddies all went down in the end, Barile far outlived his fast-paced, high-risk lifestyle. In the end, it was liver cancer that felled the erstwhile pot peddler.

“When he got sick toward the end, I took him to a lot of different hospitals,” de Herrera said. Finally, Barile boarded a flight back to California for a trip to a V.A. hospital - and it ended up being his last. He died at 68 on April 20, 2011.

At his funeral, mourners honored a final request by playing “My Way,” according to the grandson, who asked not to be named.

With no other assets to speak of, Barile’s only legacy was the Cabo house, according to de Herrera.

“He almost died a pauper other than that house,” de Herrera said. “It’s not like he was a street beggar - he was just one of a thousand people living on $2,000 a month in Cabo.”

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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